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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

I Want Everything The Powergamers Get, Only I Don't Want To Work For It

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday December 16 2009 at 6:36AM
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I don't believe for one minute that it was only in the EVE developer's roundtable that anyone in the industry ever said:

"Hey, you know what, everyone pays for 24/7 game access; why not let them develop some aspects of their charcter or game offline so that everyone feels like they're getting their money's worth, even when they can't actually be online?"

or

"Look, guys, don't you think it's kind of unhealthy to set up our game so that only those with addiction-level playing styles can accomplish the best content?  Why not let them advance at a certain pace even offline and thus encourage everyone to have lives outside of the game?"

or

"Hey, instead of making potential new customers choose between WoW and our game, let's make it so they can play both by allowing offline progression in ours! That way they can at least fully test out our game and not have to give up their WoW addiction."

Okay, Alganon did think of that last one. But, really?  Nobody else thought of these things? Or, if they did, they were shot down?  A game that offers offline progression is a no-brainer for anyone that wants to appeal to casual players and part-timers and at least get those who are playing another game to try out your new game.  So why hasn't anyone outside of EVE and Alganon even tried it?

My theory on this is pretty simple; MMOGs are made by people that are dedicated to playing MMOGs or other video games.  Most of them got ongoing doses of enjoyable self-esteem (no knock intended)  and joy and love and community by spending 40+ hours a week in-game, being part of some big, organized guild and pwning the high-level content. 

They have absolutely no comprehension of why people unlike them play the game, because they are deep in a community of people that play these games as if these games are a drug or a job.  They try to imagine why people play WoW or EQ2 when they're only in the game maybe 5-10 hrs a week; and this inability to understand shows in how they throw "bones" to what may actually be their largest and most profitable player base.  They apparently believe we should be happy with the powergamer game scraps.  In their mind, we obviously aren't in the game to "achieve" or advance our character, because if we were we'd be playing like them, so we must be there for social reasons, or other non-developmental, non-advancement reasons.

In the words of one developer from long ago, the great unwashed and lame (we casuals) are needed only so that the powergamers will have the sense that they are better; they need a large context  of under-achievers so that their over-achieving playstyle provides a satisfactory sense of comparative superiority.

Well, listen up.  The only thing that separates you from the great masses of casual players is that playing the MMOG is not as important to them as it is to you.  They still want the same advancement, achievement, and character development as you, the same opportunity to grow and develop their character to pwnage power or visual equipment and abilities; they are just unwilling to reorganize their lives to invest the necessary at-the-keyboard time to accomplish this.

Oh, many of  them are willing to pay for it by purchasing ready-made characters sold at third-party sites, or buy from in-game shops, or even pay outside organizations to level and raid with their character to get the advancement goods. They're willing to risk being banished by running scripts so that they don't actually have to be at the keyboard to grind.

Yes, that's right: they want to be able to gain all the power and abilities and gear as those who actually work for them (and by "work" I mean be at the keyboard as if it is your career) without actually having to invest the online time to do so.  Most "hard-core" players sneer at this in most forums, throwing out insults dripping with dismissive condescension. I would imagine that most developers, even if they had the idea of offline progression, would quiver in fear of the wrath of the hardcore base if they installed true offline progression.  They would be known as the developer that put out a game for gimps and whimps that wanted all of their achievements handed to them on a silver platter without having to work for it.

Well, here's the thing, guys. I (and many, many others) have a full time career and a full time family and full time real-life activities; I am not about to invest the necessary hours in at-the-keyboard work (read: grind, raids, hours-long-group-intances) in order to achieve or develop my character with gear and abilities in your game, and since your game is built around at-the-keyboard time as a criteria for advancement, why should I play your game?

Answer: I don't.  I used to, because of many reasons - it was a cool experience in EQ, and WoW was a beautiful game, but in the end those things are ultimately unsatisfying because I had no chance whatsoever of going beyond a certain point with  my character because of the online time required. At some point the casual player or soloer understands this is true, and will be true, about any MMOG they play because they're all the same in that respect. For many of us we realize we're ultimately just playing a game that will frustrate us when we run into that first bottleneck.  We'll start losing interest and then just leave the game. Some of us will even get resentful as we realize that we are being farmed for subsidy money so that high-end content can be supplied to the least profitable members of the community (because of the bandwidth they consume).

At some point, however, some developer is going to actually ask a focus group of part-time casuals and soloers what they really want (not what they can reasonably expect) from an MMOG, and they're going to fearlessly tell the developers that what they really want is to be able to get everything that the powergamers get, only they don't want to have to sacrifice time from their offline lives to get it. Perhaps some smart developer will transcend the shock, horror and disgust of such a notion and realize that it's about the money, and develop a game to tap this market even if it means being ridiculed by all the power gamers in the world. You know, develop a game entirely around the casual and soloer market from the ground up.

And then we'll finally have a fearless, no-apology offline advancement system MMOG instead of one more power-gamer haven deceptively advertised as casual-player friendly by people who imagine that they understand what casual players really want. We want to be more than just that which power gamers compare themselves to in order to feel superior.

 

 

spyderbite writes:

Although I'll play my favorite game daily, I am hardly a power-leveler or hard core player. After 5 years in EQ2, my highest level toon is only 69. I am in no rush of hitting end game any time soon. Raiding bores me and grinding content for a select item or piece of armor seems like an endless run on a treadmill. Not appealing.

So, if anybody wants a "Win Now" button.. I say let them have it. People need to be more tolerant of these types for one reason. People that race to End Game bore easily and move on. So, while they may annoy you briefly like a yappy terrier puppy, they won't be around long. And, hardly worth busting a blood vessel over as many do on the gaming forums when a new player pops in with "How do I become the best and oh, btw, I'd like to accomplish this by tomorrow because I have 4 wives, 20 children, 6 jobs & I go to 2 colleges full time". :)

Wed Dec 16 2009 8:17AM Report
Meleagar writes:

Not a new player here, bub. I was there when EQ opened, and before that I was playing MUDs.  You might try reading the rest of my posts here and get a feeling for what this blog is about; it's  hardly about making an "I win" button or getting to some supposed "end game".

It's about designing a game for the casual and solo player, not because there is nothing for them to achieve in any other game, but because they are coded out of unique, significant, exclusive, or top-tier content simply because they can't devote the at-the-keyboard time or attention necessary to get through the arbitrarily-coded hoops.

If you're one of those "I'll take what I can get" casuals, you might ask yourself why every game is structurally coded for the feel-good-about-myself benefit of about 10-20% of the least profitable player base. 

Stop drinking the cool-aid. These guys are farming you; you and other casuals are just their cash crop while they pander to the hardcore powergamers.

Wed Dec 16 2009 8:38AM Report
theAsna writes:


 The crucial points here are static content and community.

A player will create a character. Eventually he will reach the level cap. After that he will play further to cap the character's equipment.

That's the standard we have today.

Developers will put in some additional obstacles (e.g. goals that will only be reached by grinding, higher time requirements on higher levels, gear checks for specific content) so that players don't reach the "utlimate cap" too fast or until the next content patch is released.

Eventually a player will create another character and repeat the whole process again. The second time he will advance faster than the first time (content is almost the same). The more often a player restarts a new character, the player will want to reach the ultimate cap faster than the previous times.

The player wants to get a feeling of accomplishment and reward. For the power gamers that feeling comes by reaching the ultimate cap. Although the "ultimate cap" is no fix cap but will be increased with time. This leads a player to either stop playing at some point or running to the cap again and again with more and more characters. That just leads to a vicious circle which requires more and more time spent at-the-keyboard.

I don't think that handing out rewards more easily and lower time requirements will help much. After all it's the community that "makes" the game and set's the in-game rules. No matter how easy a game may get or how easily equipment can be acquired, the goals and requirements will be set by the players. Just look at WoW. The developer made it easier to get useful equipment. What did the players do? They require other players to get to an arbitrary equipment level and acquire some arbitrary achievements. I'm not sure that in the end the required time at-the-keyboard has been reduced. Especially since a big part of MMOs is participating in the community.

On the other hand, take a board game, card game or PnP session. Your players will play one or more sessions. A play session may be as short as an evening amongst friends or several evenings. The games have an end. Sometimes the end is clearly defined by the game rules or will be determined by the players. Next time players meet they start a new game and play for some time. The game is based on the same game rules, but the play session will evolve differently (e.g. randomized starting positions, random events, players use different strategies, different campaign setting, etc).

Maybe it's important to closely look at a game's concept itself.

 

Wed Dec 16 2009 1:21PM Report
5150 writes:

Isn't this essentially what the US free version of DDO is doing already?

Tue Dec 22 2009 8:47AM Report
GFCM writes:

I'm currently playing Atlantica. I have a level 100 gunner (max level is 130) and i'm not a powergamer (need to work, have a healthy real life, etc..). I just would like to give an example of how things work in Atlantica:

- Now we have a 1 hour event for Christmas (Santa Villa)

- For me, a level 100, I can do every day individual dungeon's: level 90 (1 hour), level 94 (1 hour) and level 98 (1 hour).

- My guild runs Guild Dungeon every day (1 hour and 30 mins AT LEAST)

- My nation runs Nation Dungeons every day (1 hour and 30 mins AT LEAST)

- You also can do 3 quests to get bonus xp for being level 100 (lets consider at least 1 hour)

If you add just those things that i thought right now (might have forgot something) it will be 8 hours. I'm currently working 9 hours per day and sleeping some other 8 hours. So, even If i stop eating, taking bath, playing soccer, going out with my girlfriend and etc.. i will still NOT BE ABLE to do what i should do DAILY (in-game talking), and many players do that EVERY DAY and more.

 

Tue Dec 22 2009 9:23AM Report
Knytta writes:

A very good post on a very interesting topic. Personally I started EQ1 before Luclin and I had a blast in the beginning and I remember the thrill of dinging 50 and getting my shammy polar bear spell. I also vividly remember how sad I was just months later when I realized that I would never be able to keep up with the people in my guild and that I would always look at a "must do" list that just kept getting longer and longer and longer. I did recently dinged 80 in EQ2 altough it took time but I have a LONNG must do list there too. I do not know what the solution is, maybe separate rulesets or a subscription fee where you can play a maximum time per week and where the hardcore gamers pays more, that would show the publishers what customers are more profitable.

Tue Dec 22 2009 10:01AM Report
Meleagar writes:

The reason there is not a good solutoin to be found in most current games is because current games are not set up in a way where a good solution is available. Current games are about creating an identifiable end-game end-character set, and then organizing the structure and balance of the game around achieving that end-character goal.  That end-character goal corresponds to end-game content as a role.  The method of distributing the carrot of a sense of achievement and advancement is delivered through online time.

There's nothing wrong with that game system/mechanism, but there's no reason not to explore other systems and other mechanisms.  A game set up where every character is always advancing 24/7 according to the strategic management of the player changes the entire nature of the game from one of brute time to one of strategy. The open sandbox style disallows an meaningful "end game" as a universal goal that drives content and player interaction.

Tue Dec 22 2009 11:14AM Report
Teala writes:

Games need to move away from being gear centric and get back to giving us adventure!

Wed Dec 23 2009 10:57AM Report
biofellis writes:

For investment, there has to be some reward. No one wants to work for nothing- even in a game. That said, grindy, gear-centric bs does have to go.

Wed Jan 27 2010 1:38AM Report
Hluill writes:

I have often wondered why more games don't offer offline options.  If this a living, breathing world, then my toons are doing something while I am logged out.  Why can't they be earning experience, or completing mundane crafting chores?  I am tired of gear-centric games.  I am tired of not having time to grind to access major portions of content.

Sun Jun 13 2010 6:59PM Report
Meleagar writes:

Exactly, Hull.  There is a vast multitude of people that enjoy managing/making decisions about their character's advancment, but simply do not have the time to invest in the at-the-keyboard work that is necessary in most games - yet, developers expect them to pay the same amount as those who are in-game 8 hours a day.

There is simply no good reason to not have offline advancement other than to arbitrarily set up a system that defines powergamers as - at least in-game - superior, and to keep the casuals as a lower caste so that the powergamers can feel superior.

IMO, MMOGs today are mostly developed by powergamers in order to provide current and future powergamers with an experience that makes them feel superior at the expense of everyone else. There simply is no other justification for not allowing offline advancement, IMO.

Mon Jun 14 2010 6:43AM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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